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Fact Check-COVID-19 vaccines do not alter a recipient’s DNA and U.S. FDA does not list death as a side effect

Posts are circulating on social media which claim to show how harmful COVID-19 vaccines are by listing 22 ingredients allegedly present in the vaccine. In addition, the posts claim that the vaccines contain nanotechnology and modify DNA, and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists death as a side effect. These claims are false.

The posts refer to the U.S. FDA and provide a UK government link at the end. This check will therefore focus on the four vaccines approved for Emergency Use Authorization in the United States and granted temporary Authorization under Regulation 174 by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Janssen (U.S. only) and Oxford-AstraZeneca (UK only).

At the time of publication of this article in March 2021, there was no COVID-19 vaccine that had been fully approved by the FDA in the United States or given full market authorization by the MHRA in the United Kingdom (here , here , here , here).

These COVID-19 vaccines do not modify DNA, the FDA does not list death as a side effect for them and the vaccines contain only one of the ingredients listed. Along with the nanotechnology in mRNA vaccines, it is not harmful.

Examples of the posts, which list ingredients including antifreeze, aluminum, formaldehyde, aborted cow blood, human blood and Polysorbate 80, can be seen here and here .

VACCINE INGREDIENTS

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ingredients are listed in a fact sheet on the FDA’s website  here . The ingredients are mRNA (messenger RNA), lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose.

Kit Longley, a spokesperson for Pfizer, told Reuters via email that, as seen in the above list, none of the ingredients listed in the social media posts is used in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

A fact sheet, seen on the FDA’s website  here , shows that the ingredients of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are mRNA, lipids, cholesterol, 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate and sucrose. This list does not contain any of the ingredients in the social media posts.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ingredients are listed on the UK government website as ChAdOx1-S recombinant, L-histidine, L-histidine hydrochloride monohydrate, magnesium chloride hexahydrate, polysorbate 80, ethanol, sucrose, sodium chloride, disodium edetate dihydrate, water for injections (here).

Dr. Sean Elias from the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine team told Reuters via email that, as is visible in the ingredients list, “Polysorbate 80 is in the vaccine as a listed ingredient. None of the others [listed in the social media post] are relevant.”

The social media posts describe polysorbate-80 as follows: “causes cancer, emulsifier that opens the blood brain barrier so the aluminum nano particles can get in.”

Elias for the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine team explained that polysorbate 80 is in fact “commonly used in many food stuffs as an emulsifier [helps ingredients mix together] and in health products as a surfactant [reduces surface tension between ingredients].”

“In medicines it works in a similar way to stabilise the liquid for injection. The volume used in vaccines is a fraction of that used in other products,” Dr. Elias said.

This description from the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine team matches the findings of a previous Reuters fact check, visible here .

Polysorbate 80 is widely used safely in the food industry (here , here) and in other vaccines: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists 17 common vaccines which have polysorbate 80 as an ingredient here .

An expert group at the European Medicines Agency has categorized the danger of polysorbate 80 as “very low” ( here).

The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine ingredients, as listed on a fact sheet on the FDA’s website  here  , include: recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, citric acid monohydrate, trisodium citrate dihydrate, ethanol, 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD), polysorbate-80 and sodium chloride. The only ingredient included in this list and the list on social media is polysorbate 80, which is described above.

Reuters has previously debunked claims that dead tissue from human aborted fetuses and aluminum, both listed in the social media posts, are used in the COVID-19 vaccines: (here , here).

Reuters Fact Check has also tackled safety concerns about other ingredients listed in the social media posts that are sometimes used in small amounts in vaccines (here , here).

Many of these ingredients are also explained by the FDA here and on the Oxford University Vaccine Knowledge project website here .

DNA MODIFICATION

The social media posts allege that the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines “works as a genetic scissor that modifies your DNA in deep.”

Reuters has debunked false claims that vaccines will alter the recipients’ DNA here , here and here .

The CDC says that a COVID-19 vaccine will not alter the recipient’s DNA, explaining that “the mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. This means the mRNA cannot affect or interact with our DNA in any way” (here).

An article by the Vaccine Alliance Gavi (here) says that “mRNA isn’t the same as DNA, and it can’t combine with our DNA to change our genetic code. It is also relatively fragile, and will only hang around inside a cell for about 72 hours before being degraded” (here).

The article explains that mRNA are strands of genetic code that provide instructions that our cellular machinery needs to assemble the proteins we need to function. The mRNA vaccines deliver mRNA into our cells, which the cells use to manufacture a viral protein: the coronavirus ‘spike’ protein.

When our immune cells encounter this protein they respond, which should protect recipients against future COVID-19. When our cells have made the viral protein, it is on their surfaces, allowing passing immune cells to spot it and respond.

FDA DOES NOT SAY DEATH IS A SIDE EFFECT

The posts claim that the FDA warns that death is a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The side effects of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA for temporary use (Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen) are listed by the FDA here , here and here .

The FDA does not include death on any of these lists. The FDA does say that the side effects listed may not be all the possible side effects of the vaccines, which are still being studied in clinical trials, adding, “serious and unexpected side effects may occur.”

NANO TECHNOLOGY

The social media posts claim that the “RNA vaccine contains nano technology.” As explained here by Reuters in a previous fact-check article, the term “nano,” is simply a unit of size: the general definition of “nanoparticle” is a small particle that is between 1 and 100 nanometers in size (here).

The lipid nanoparticles in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine protect and transport the vaccine component to the right place in cells (here).

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use lipid nanoparticles as mRNA carriers (here), while the Janssen and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are vector vaccines that do not use this technology (here).

VERDICT

False. The ingredients, methodology and side effects of the U.S. and UK COVID-19 vaccines are incorrectly described in the social media posts, making the vaccines seem harmful in a way that they are not.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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